Six Nations’ funded colleges and universities and never repaid

James McGill tips his hat to the original owners of the downtown campus. Photo by Heritage Canada 

The use of Six Nations’ trust funds links to a federal debt owed to the Six Nations of the Grand River for funding other higher learning entities like Upper Canada College, McMaster University, Osgoode Law School, and McGill University.

In the mid-1800s faced with closure amidst a financial crisis, the pre-Confederation government of the Province of Canada loaned money to what was called McGill College at the time. Students calculated the value of the debt at $173 million in 2009. The colonial government funded the loan with money taken from what was called “uninvested trust funds” of the Six Nations and other First Nations.

The Crown government was considered the fiduciary trustee. The native people were the wards of the Crown. The transfer of money was made without the permission of Six Nations. According to Canada’s national archive staff, records shows that $40,000 was used from various Indigenous People’s trust funds in 1864.

McGill paid back this loan and a subsequent loan by 1881 to the Canadian government, but the Crown never reimbursed the Six Nations’ Trust Funds. By the mid-1970s the Six Nations Trust Fund was reduced in total from $175 million to $1.5 million. Band Councillor the late Mitchell Sandy said in 1978 that the Canadian government billed the Trust Fund for infrastructure costs, education, and health care. The Six Nations band council restructured the trust as a housing loan trust at that time.

McGill administration said that the loan was contracted from the government, which was managing First Nations’ lands and the proceeds derived from such lands, including rental and sale. McGill University claims it repaid its debts and “owes nothing to the Six Nations.” However, the outstanding claim includes a tract of land in Hawkesbury, Ontario, and the McGill Tract near Mt. Pleasant, Ontario. The McGill campus in downtown Montreal sits on the old Mohawk Hochelaga town site which is still under claim.

In 2016 McGill University recognized the last vestige of Six Nations’ claim on Hochelaga by moving what was called the Hochelaga Rock from near Sherbourne street to the entrance of the downtown campus. Indigenous staff at McGill pointed out that the statue of James McGill pays homage to the original people, who seems to tip his hat at the rock. This led to the decision by the University to move the rock closer to the entrance.

The Six Nations elected council filed a statement of claim in 1995 against Canada and Ontario regarding the Crown’s handling of Six Nations property, money, and other assets before and after the Confederation. In 2004, the Six Nations council put this action on hold, hoping that discussions with the government would be successful. They were not, and the 1995 litigation was reintroduced in 2009.

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